Open Markets, Farm Action grade Biden on food system competition

The Open Markets Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping monopolies, strengthening antitrust law and competition policy, and Farm Action, a group that works “to create a food and agriculture system that works for everyday people rather than a handful of powerful corporations,” today gave the Agriculture Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department passing grades for the Biden administration’s efforts to increase competition in the food system but said time is of the essence for the administration to succeed in its competition goals by 2024.

In a report, the groups gave the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission each a B- and the Agriculture Department a D+.

Claire Kelloway of the Open Markets Institute, one of the authors of the report, said that the groups had been “encouraged by the leadership” in the Biden administration but that “USDA has a lack of decisive action.”

Sarah Carden of Farm Action, the other author of the report, said, “We are seeing the stage set for some on-the-ground impacts.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute, challenged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take action, particularly on the “tournament” system that critics say pit poultry growers against one another, labeling and imports.

Angela Huffman, co-founder and vice president of Farm Action, added she hopes Biden “will work to encourage these agencies to deliver on a more fair, competitive food system.”

But the organizers and their colleagues described the report as a friendly critique.

Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who moderated a panel discussion after the report was presented, said that the administration’s performance needed to be “assessed.” But Salvador also told The Hagstrom Report that “this administration is the biggest opportunity we are going to have for a while. We want to work with them.”

Asked for his evaluation of how the administration has done on competition issues, Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report today that he believes the administration has accomplished a lot, but that there is more to be done, particularly in enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Vilsack said he believes the administration has been “pretty responsive” on the competition issues but that he expected the groups meeting today to call for more action.

Vilsack said USDA expects to get “guidance and direction” from the groups.


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